Media report provides a misleading account of Kittleson horse case


The horses in this case suffered from grossly overgrown hooves that made it difficult and painful for them to walk

The story published in the Star Tribune on January 5 provides a misleading and incomplete account of the horse case involving Dr. Shirley Kittleson.

AHS offers humane investigation services free of charge to law enforcement agencies in all 87 Minnesota counties. We provide emergency care, rehabilitation, and housing for hundreds of abused and neglected animals each year at no cost to local governments.

Although we can provide this care for dogs, cats, and other small animals in our shelters, we rely on trusted partners – local veterinarians and horse rescues across Minnesota – to help us care for abused and neglected horses and livestock.

Over the past several years we have worked with partners across Minnesota to help us with dozens of cases involving more than 400 horses rescued from abuse and neglect.

In these cases, AHS typically agrees to release the horses to a partner who boards them during the investigation and proceedings. Once the horses are released, the partner is free to sell or place them.

AHS does reimburse its partners for veterinary and farrier services, and we have already paid Kittleson for all of the veterinary and farrier services invoiced in this case.

Kittleson began boarding the horses from this case in June 2018, and we released them to her for placement in August 2018. That notification was provided to her through AHS Humane Agent Keith Streff and later through our legal counsel.

AHS has also offered to pick up and place the horses, but Kittleson has refused to place the horses or allow AHS to place them.

Despite this fact, Kittleson has argued that AHS still is responsible for the cost of boarding the horses to this date. Although we continue to seek a reasonable settlement, our repeated attempts to resolve this matter in good faith have so far been unsuccessful.

What’s lost in this dispute is the welfare of the 72 horses in this case. The investigation by AHS and the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office led a jury of his peers to convict Michael Johnson on criminal animal cruelty charges. Those horses are no longer suffering because of our work on this case.

The investigation that led to that criminal conviction began in June 2018 when a local resident contacted the Watonwan County Sheriff’s office with concerns about the condition and welfare of the horses. A sheriff’s deputy, who later reached out to Agent Streff for assistance, was the first to visit the property. The sheriff’s deputy witnessed multiple dead horses and others living in poor health.

Many of the horses suffered from grossly overgrown hooves — some six to eight inches overgrown — which make it difficult and painful for them to walk and stand and reflect months or even years of neglect.

AHS has initiated a third-party complaint against Johnson for the outstanding costs. A restitution claim in the criminal case is also pending.

Animal Humane Society is committed to seeking justice for animals throughout Minnesota. Our humane agents are the only full-time professional humane investigators in the state. Over the past five years they have pursued more than 2,400 reports of cruelty and neglect, aiding nearly 9,000 animals, including more than 3,400 animals removed from conditions of abuse and neglect.

As a private animal welfare organization, AHS receives no government funding. All costs associated with these cases are paid for by the generosity of AHS donors.

We are grateful to those donors and to our many partners and volunteers who make this important work possible.


For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline